Faith and science clash in medieval Europe and Persia.
In 11th century England Rob Cole (Tom Payne) is orphaned when his mother dies of complications caused by appendicitis. It is an age when comparatively little was known about human physiognomy. Church law emphasised the primacy of God’s will and imposed strict limits on medical research and practice. In an era when people were routinely executed for suspicion of practising witchcraft Rob’s belief that he has a natural ability to detect when people are going to die places him at odds with the church.
Apprenticed to a travelling barber-surgeon (Stellan Skarsgård) Rob is taught the rudiments of what medical knowledge is available and considered permissible by the church. His mentor tutors him in bloodletting and dental extraction.
Mindful that his medical experience is limited he seeks the aid of a Jewish healer when the barber-surgeon is blinded by cataracts. Enthused after witnessing a more knowledgeable medical practitioner restore his mentor’s sight Rob decides to travel to Isfahan, Persia and study under the noted healer Ibn Sina (Ben Kingsley).
Former pop video director Philipp Stölzl brings Noah Gordon’s bestselling historical novel to the screen in an ambitious adaptation that condenses Gordon’s 600 page opus into an intelligent and expansive cinematic epic. Previously a stage designer in a Munich theatre, Stölzl began his directing career with a promo for Rammstein’s Du riechst so gut. Honing his craft helming commercials and videos for Madonna and Garbage he is best known for the visually rich ode to German Romanticism Young Goethe in Love. For his fourth feature film Stölzl has crafted an epic that pays homage to Lawrence of Arabia.
A success in Germany and Spain, The Physician soared to top of the box-office charts on its opening weekend pummeling The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug into second place. To meet high demand to see The Physician the number of German cinemas showing the film had to be increased for its second week in theaters
Commenting on the dangers of religious extremism the film uses its Dark Ages setting to mirror contemporary debates about faith based groups attempts to restrict scientific research. Critical of the role religion has played in suppressing knowledge, enforcing unjust social conditions, and perpetuating a false sense of ideological supremacy the film highlights the absurdity of an unquestioning adherence to a belief system.
Skeptical without overtly politicized explicit condemnation The Physician explores cultural and religious tensions, paralleling and contrasting historical developments with contemporary society.
The juxtaposition of western Europe’s Dark Ages with the Islamic Golden Age reminds viewers that the Orient was at the forefront of scientific development during the middle ages.
Visually splendid. Authentic period costuming, effective cinematography and judicious use of CGI convincingly recreate 11th century London and Persia. The Physician is a period drama rich in detail that tackles weighty subject matter and carries a strong emotional core.
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